Alexander Volkanovski has demanded Khabib Nurmagomedov’s absence never be mentioned after he claims ‘champ champ’ status at UFC 284, saying: “It better not be used as an excuse once this is all done.”
While still three weeks away from his hyped UFC 284 headliner against Islam Makhachev, Volkanovski and the Russian superstar squared off for the first time in a Sydney alleyway on Sunday.
As part of a UFC promotional shoot, both rivals produced their respective championship belts for pictures in front of two oversized Volkanovski murals, freshly painted just off George Street.
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While Makhachev is paying for a huge support crew of 14 to aid final camp preparations Down Under, one man who hasn’t made the trip is his famed coach and UFC great Nurmagomedov — who only last week announced via social media that he was leaving the sport to spend more time with family.
Since retiring undefeated in 2020, the Dagestani legend has played a huge role, alongside co-coach Javier Mendez, in Makhachev’s rise to the UFC lightweight title — prompting many to question exactly what impact his absence will now mean for the blockbuster against Volkanovski.
Shortly after the decision was made, UFC analyst Chael Sonnen even went so far as to liken the departure as a potential “matzah ball” for Makhachev’s dual title hopes, saying: “Your trainer, mentor, and coach is not going to be training, mentoring, or coaching … it feels like a big deal.”
Yet after jetting into Sydney late on Saturday night, Makhachev then sat for an interview with Fox Sports Australia the following morning, where he stressed the loss of his coach would not be a problem.
“Because when the cage door close, no one is there for you,” he shrugged.
From there, the new UFC lightweight king was then shuttled into the city for that first real showdown with Volkanovski – where he appeared to have some choice words for Australia’s No. 1 fighter.
So as for what was said?
“He just asked how training was going,” Volkanosvki laughed afterwards. “Asked how my camp had been in Thailand.
“Maybe he knew some guys training there at the same time.”
A suggestion he has been gathering intel perhaps?
“Dunno,” the Aussie continued with a shrug. “But if he’s been talking to people who were there, that’s good. He would have received some good reports.”
When it comes to the issue of Nurmagomedov’s absence however, Volkanovski stressed it should not become a headline after what he insists will be his victory at UFC 284.
Asked if he expected the legend’s absence to have an impact on the showdown for two UFC titles, he replied: “It better not.
“And they better not use it as an excuse once this is all done.
“At the end of the day, Makhachev will prepare and we’re going to fight.
“He doesn’t need someone to hold his hand.
“Doesn’t need someone to be in there with him.
“That’s not a real fighter.
“So when my hand gets raised, that better not come up.”
Elsewhere, Volkanovski suggested Nurmagomedov’s presence up to this point with Team Makhachev had given his rival a certain treatment that he never received himself in his rise to the world’s No. 1 pound-for-pound spot.
“Having Khabib in his corner has certainly helped in many ways,” the Windang native said.
“Has seen him get certain treatment.
“So do I think he’s a worthy champion? One hundred per cent I do.
“But did he have to go through what I did to get a title shot? Maybe not.
“But still, he beat the champion so deserves the belt.”
Makhachev, meanwhile, admitted that while his coach’s absence would obviously be felt, he still understood why the father of three had decided to walk away from the sport indefinitely.
“Of course, it’s going to be different,” the champ said.
“But I’ve already fought without him a couple of times.
“And he cannot always be with me.
“Of course, it’s very good when he is here. I always like when he is with me because he knows all the games being played.
“He knows what you need for the fight, for the weight cut, you don’t have to worry about any of this.
“It’s always good when you have someone as experienced as him.
“You don’t have to spend your energy thinking about other things.
“But I understand that he has to spend more time with his family.
“Because with all the fighting, the training, his family miss him too. Even though he is retired he’s still travelling a lot.
“That’s why I understand (the decision).”
Makhachev said he had arrived three weeks early to not only ensure he beat jet lag, but also made the necessary adjustments from having trained in a Russian winter to now fighting in an Australian summer.
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